Science AMA Series: We’re Professor Kristine DeLong and documentary journalist Ben Raines, our discovery of a preserved underwater forest in the Gulf of Mexico that’s been submerged since an Ice Age 60,000 years ago when sea levels were 400 feet lower than they are today. Ask Us Anything!

Abstract

[removed]

What are the conditions for a forest to be preserved like this? I'm assuming it has something to do with quick and sustained flooding, because normal sea level rise would take too long.

hazzial

Kristine here - Yes, this is exactly what we are thinking as we develop our hypothesis for why these trees are preserved for such a long period of time. During the glacial interval, sea level fluctuates as the ice sheets grow larger and shrink until the last glacial maximum is reached about 18,000 years ago. A quick sea level could have produced a flood that buried the trees thus allowing for preservation.


What are the conditions for a forest to be preserved like this? I'm assuming it has something to do with quick and sustained flooding, because normal sea level rise would take too long.

hazzial

The key to preserving anything like this in the marine environment is protecting it from oxygen. You see the same phenomenon in the peat bogs of Ireland, where they find bodies that have been preserved for 2,000 years due to the anoxic conditions. Essentially, when you remove oxygen from the equation, you prevent the organisms that cause things to decay from being able to survive.

In aquatic environments, once something is covered by about 8 inches of sediment, it is effectively sealed away from oxygen. In the forest, we are talking about nine feet of sediment covering much of the area. The spot where we found the trees exposed is actually a hole where waves have scoured out a trench. Good question. Thanks, Ben


How do you go about inspecting the area, I am sure you have to be as careful as possible but what types of methods are you all using to prevent harm to the sight?

antonioeg9595

We generally follow typical scuba diving rules used on coral reefs the world over. You try not to touch the bottom too much. That's useful in the forest, because of the mud present everywhere. You might recall the scene in the documentary when Kristine is trying to free a log from the mud and clouds billow up.

That being said, we have collected some wood for the scientists to analyze, and a small log, about as big around as your leg was pulled up last week to go on display in the Dauphin Island Sea Lab's public aquarium, known as the Estuarium.

The area where LSU collected the sediment cores is the only area that really shows signs of human activity. The vibracore machine left a sort of soupy clay on the bottom immediately around the spot the core was punched. Thanks, Ben


How do you go about inspecting the area, I am sure you have to be as careful as possible but what types of methods are you all using to prevent harm to the sight?

antonioeg9595

Kristine here - One thing we do is not release to coordinates to anyone. We also avoid going to the site on the weekends and during fishing seasons when more fishermen are out there. Our mapping of the site and surrounding area uses noninvasive geophysical instruments that move in the water above the seafloor. We are working with federal agencies like BOEM and NOAA to preserve the site.


How has the new information found from this discovery changed what we know, or thought we knew, about our past? Does this negate or confirm any major assumptions we have made in this area?

BippityBoppityBanana

While I'm not a card carrying scientist like Dr. DeLong, I have coauthored a few papers in paleontology journals, mostly dealing with marine fossils. From my perspective, the forest discovery confirms most of what we hear about changing sea levels and climate. I think the new detail the forest may shed light on is the speed with which sea level can change. Kristine speaks in the film about the time this forest was living as being a really rocking time for the Earth, with sea level changed tens of meters in a thousand years. That works out to about 8 feet every hundred years on average, which is faster than even the worst case scenarios we hear about today. So, there might be a warning in there for those of us living on the coast. Thanks, Ben


How has the new information found from this discovery changed what we know, or thought we knew, about our past? Does this negate or confirm any major assumptions we have made in this area?

BippityBoppityBanana

Kristine here - This is a unique site where we have little information about baldcypress swamps during glacial intervals for the US Gulf coast because they are now underwater. The knowledge we derive from the site will be new information. Other pollen studies are generally further north than our site and they suggest cold tolerant trees during the glacial intervals for the southeastern US. We are finding similar swamp ecosystems like today but with small differences in forest composition.


Prof. DeLong: What are the most important scientific discoveries that have come out of your work on this underwater forest?

aClimateScientist

Kristine here - Great question! This study is one that keeps giving us new discoveries we were not expecting. For example, my colleague at the USGS was able to quickly find cypress and grass seeds in the wood bearing sediments; we did not expect to find seeds that old. This research is still in progress and we are working on our papers for publication. The main item we need is good dates so we can know what the actual interval and sea level state for the time these trees were growing. We have samples out for Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) dating and we will dates these dates this summer.


Will all of the oil activity in the Gulf, and the requisite hydrographic survey that comes with it, how is it that this gem has gone undetected for so long? How many acres are we talking about?

mtheperry

This area is about a half mile square. You mention the survey's in the Gulf. Interestingly, this area was exploited for gas wells decades ago, in the 1980s, when such technology was much more primitive. The wells off Alabama are in the Norfleet formation, which is about 20,000 feet below the seafloor. They are some of the deepest wells in the Gulf. The wells drilled long ago are effectively draining the resource, and no gas has been found at shallower depths. In short, most of the modern surveys have been conducted elsewhere, with more promising formations. Thanks, Ben


Sorry for me being so uninformed about this but you caught my interest.

I always wondered how do you find places like these. Is it a long time process or just a straight up luck or something in between? And if you "track down" places like these (or fossils etc) how do you filter useful data from hoax?

Thank you very much

TheTeaSpoon

Kristine here - This was just luck, like Chas and Ben say in the documentary, a fisherman noticed more fish at this location. The northern gulf coast is generally flat and sandy, not a lot of places for fish to hide and congregate. So, a lot of fish on a fish finder will get your attention. The site is not that big and it was just luck the captain noticed it on his boat. There have been surveys in the general area by oil companies and scientists, but no one noticed this hole with the trees being exposed. We think the site was exposed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, so it had been buried before that. We are hoping to find other sites that are still buried along the coast now that we know what to look for. I do get calls from people who say they found trees underwater and I talk with them and try to more information from them. Once I say I want to go dive their site and I need the coordinates, if they are less cooperative I tend to believe they are being less truthful.


Sorry for me being so uninformed about this but you caught my interest.

I always wondered how do you find places like these. Is it a long time process or just a straight up luck or something in between? And if you "track down" places like these (or fossils etc) how do you filter useful data from hoax?

Thank you very much

TheTeaSpoon

So this discovery was straight up luck in some measure, but also a testament to the power of technology. On my boat, I have a small sonar machine or depth finder, that I use to locate the wrecks I want to dive on. Most every fisherman in fresh or saltwater has one these days. That's how the forest was discovered. A fisherman was running across the Gulf and his bottom machine lit up with fish. He circled back and fished the area, loading up with red snapper.

But this particular spot was different than most in that there was very little relief on the bottom, just lots of fish. Typically, an artificial reef or natural bottom coral outcropping stands up several feet off the bottom, and registers as such on the depth finder. This place didn't do that, so the fisherman gave the coordinates to a guy that owns a dive shop and asked him to tell him what was down there. Turned out to be an ancient forest. Thanks, Ben


What's your biggest fear if this place becomes located by non scientific communities?

mbuech29

As I mention in the documentary, my biggest fear is someone essentially mining the site to pull the logs up to make furniture or guitars or what have you. I see this as a natural wonder, like the Grand Canyon. It should be protected so anybody willing to down a mask and swim down can see it. Thanks, Ben


Are you studying them as an ecological community and comparing the relative frequencies to current forests? That would be really cool. Any DNA?

fractalbum

Just what you are talking about it happening, but so recently it is not in the documentary. The sediment cores from LSU have been analyzed to look at the numbers of each species present. That turned out to be fascinating. In essence, this is not like a modern Gulf Coast cypress forest. It is like a cypress forest you'd find off the Carolinas, or Virginia. This was a forest built for a colder climate. Instead of being dominated by cypress and tupelo, this forest is dominated by cypress, then alder and oak. These trees are present on the Gulf Coast, but not in the numbers they turn up in for the pollen count. Thanks, Ben


Are you studying them as an ecological community and comparing the relative frequencies to current forests? That would be really cool. Any DNA?

fractalbum

Kristine here - Yes! we are definitely doing this! I have a colleague at the USGS who is looking at the seeds and DNA is one of the things she would like to look at.


Would this appear, visually, as a literal forest down there? With standing tree trunks preserved as they were, or rather, is this a bunch of fallen organic decay that only microscopically resembles a forest?

im_not_tolerant

Take a look at the film. You'll see it is instantly recognizable as a forest, but there are no standing trunks. Instead, there are thousands of stumps still rooted in the mud they were growing in thousands of years ago, but most are less than a foot tall. Most likely, they decayed down to a mud line at some point in the past, and everything below the mud was preserved. There are lots of logs strewn about on the bottom, just like in a living forest, and you can see the knees around the cypress stumps. Thanks, Ben


Do we know of any human cultures that lived in this forest?

ClarkFable

No, but wouldn't it be fun to find some! Given that this forest is 60,000 years old, signs of human habitation would rewrite everything we know about human settlement in North America. Thanks, Ben


Have you been able to find any new species?

throwaway102658

Ben here - No new species, but some species that were unexpected at the location. For instance, cardinal fish. But mostly, all the dinner guests you expect to see at the table on a Gulf reef are there.


Disclaimer: I'm about to start work, so I don't have time to watch the documentary right now (sorry if my question in answered in the documentary).

Do you or your team predict that any more of these forests exist? If so, where would they be? I guess bays and gulfs have leas turbulent environments so that makes more sense, but more anoxic environments are probably better too. I'm not sure where those criteria meet/if there are there any other criteria.

brownaj010

Great question. Yes, absolutely more of these forests exist. In fact, you can see the remnants of another ancient cypress forest on Fort Morgan peninsula, north of the Underwater Forest. There, cypress stumps have turned up right at the edge of the surf. Those trees were dated and are about 2,000 years old. Pipeline work in Mobile Bay in ten feet of water found trees that were about 4,000 years old. Because cypress are intolerant of salt, this succession of trees moving from far offshore, to Mobile Bay, to the modern shoreline, gives us another window into rising sea level and how it pushed the cypress inland, and ever north as the seas came up. Thanks, Ben


Disclaimer: I'm about to start work, so I don't have time to watch the documentary right now (sorry if my question in answered in the documentary).

Do you or your team predict that any more of these forests exist? If so, where would they be? I guess bays and gulfs have leas turbulent environments so that makes more sense, but more anoxic environments are probably better too. I'm not sure where those criteria meet/if there are there any other criteria.

brownaj010

Kristine here - Yes! that is one of our goals is to characterize why this site is so well-preserved and identify other possible sites. This is part of our ongoing work.


Having worked with archaeologists before, they always told me the 'cool' work like this isn't paid, and you often need to pay a fee to be a part of it. Was this the case for this expedition?

DanaLovesVidya

Kristine here - I am paid by LSU so I get my salary to do research. Some of the students working on the project are volunteers and others are paid. This site does not "belong" to anyone so there is no fee. There are rules to working offshore and we coordinate our research efforts with those agencies. The ocean is different from land, there are fewer restrictions. We received funding to different sources to conduct this research so in a sense I was paid to do the work.


Having worked with archaeologists before, they always told me the 'cool' work like this isn't paid, and you often need to pay a fee to be a part of it. Was this the case for this expedition?

DanaLovesVidya

Ben here - This was definitely cool work. I'd call it a labor of love for all involved. Kristine and I cobbled together what funding we could from various grants in the beginning, mainly just to come up with gas money to get out there. Shooting and working in the offshore environment is never cheap. Getting to the forest from the nearest port is a 40 mile round trip by water. Our first grants came from unusual sources. The CCA, or Coastal Conservation Association, a lobbying group that represents recreational fishermen, gave us our first donation for gas money, along with the Alabama Reef and Restoration Foundation. Once she had some results, Kristine got some scientific grants. For the filming, you are seeing the results of about 30 days of shooting at the site, spread over a couple of years. Of course, often, I'd get out there and it would be so murky that filming was essentially impossible.


So have you found the insects in this forest or are they just speculated? What exactly would preserve them if they were found?

Also, if a tree falls at the bottom of the ocean and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

langstallion

Kristine here- I ask my students to look for insects as they process the sediments, they have not found any yet but there are lots of small items we have not identified yet. If insects are there, they would be preserved by the low oxygen conditions in the sediment. There are roots, pieces of wood, and other woody debris in the cores we collected.


I saw a video of this on the BBC website yesterday (I am guessing same one as I doubt underwater forests are discovered every day.

My questions are, what kind of aquatic life now calls this area home and what does the ecosystem look like? i.e. different species, interesting traits animals have

Sandsy90

The BBC video includes footage I provided to the BBC. Watch the full documentary and you get a treatise on the creatures that live there. Plus you get to see them with your own eyes. Arrow crabs are particularly common in the forest, which is fun as their bodies are naturally the color of cypress trunks. There are lots of fish that like to hide in nooks and crannies, like blennies and cardinal fish. You also see the typical Gulf reef community: red snapper, small groupers such as soapfish, rock seabass, hi-hats, and tomtates, or ruby-red lips. Lots of octopus. I've seen a few moray eels. Sea turtles love the forest. I have encountered many rooting around in the soft mud. Good population of sharks, particularly sandbar sharks, a small and inquisitive (read aggressive) species. The stumps themselves are home to lots of boring worms, anemones in five varieties, and lots of sponges and tunicates. Thanks, Ben


I saw a video of this on the BBC website yesterday (I am guessing same one as I doubt underwater forests are discovered every day.

My questions are, what kind of aquatic life now calls this area home and what does the ecosystem look like? i.e. different species, interesting traits animals have

Sandsy90

Kristine here- The aquatic life is quite diverse at the site since there are places for fishes to find and for sessile organisms to attach. The organisms there are found through out the Gulf of Mexico so that is no special ecosystem there. My favorite is the hawksbill turtle that hangs out there and a rare cone shell I found.


Any damage from that BP oil disaster?

webby_mc_webberson

Kristine here- Not at this site that we saw. We are a good distance away from it, 102 miles. But we were not looking for oil spill damage either. The sediment cores we collected do not have anything that looks like oil in them.


Regarding the quick "death" of the forest referred to at roughly 22-minutes into the documentary, have you discovered any possibility of salt water intrusion such as what happened following Hurricane Katrina in the areas surrounding Venice, LA? I know that huge areas of cypress were destroyed due to the intrusion of sea water in an area which was, until then, fresh water swamp.

KaHOnas

Ben here - We saw the same thing in Alabama after Ivan and Katrina. The storm surge pushed over the barrier islands and saltwater became ponded in the cypress swamps on the islands. Petit Bois Island off Mississippi once had a thriving forest. Now, it looks like a bunch of match sticks standing in the sand.


Regarding the quick "death" of the forest referred to at roughly 22-minutes into the documentary, have you discovered any possibility of salt water intrusion such as what happened following Hurricane Katrina in the areas surrounding Venice, LA? I know that huge areas of cypress were destroyed due to the intrusion of sea water in an area which was, until then, fresh water swamp.

KaHOnas

Kristine here - Yes, this is a project one of our students is working on, how salt water intrusion impacts bald cypress trees on the coast. He is working in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama on his project. His first paper should be out soon.


Find anything creeeepy?

pressedjava

Kristine here - Depends on what you call creepy but no. The sea anemones and jellyfish can sting you, I got my hands stung when diving the site and I was wearing gloves. Hurt for a little bit but I survived; fire coral is worse.


Is the location protected in some way to preserve this for future generations? I am sure there are people that would plunder such a site for profit.

flyingfrig

Kristine here- Yes, we are keeping the exact location a secret until we can get it protected. We are working with federal agencies to protect the site. And yes, people have contacted me and Ben about harvesting the wood and we have declined.


To what degree, if any, have your efforts been hindered by the history of oil and chemical spills in the northern gulf?

Agente_Anaranjado

Ben here - No hinderance from spills of any kind. In fact, Alabama escaped most of the ravages of the BP spill. Not so for our neighbors in Louisiana, but luck and barrier islands made of sand captured most of the oil before it got into our marshes.


To what degree, if any, have your efforts been hindered by the history of oil and chemical spills in the northern gulf?

Agente_Anaranjado

Kristine here- if anything we have had help from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), who is the agency that leases and regulates the oil industry. Oil companies do not want to hit a large tree stump with their drills, they would rather avoid them so knowing where they are is important to them. We are using maps and surveys either done by oil companies or funded by oil companies in our research. The geophysical technologies we use to survey the site was developed in part for oil exploration. Marine geologists tend to work with oil companies, they need us to find the oil!


Would anyone you have worked with consider themselves cartographers or at least ocean floor mappers? What sort of qualifications are typical for these occupations? What would be a more accurate job title for people who map the oceans? Is there anything close in nature to these that requires no more than a master's degree?

Jemiller

Kristine here- Great Question! We have Ph.D. student who just graduated who is creating a map of the site in 3-D. In the ocean, geophysicists or marine geologists are the people who map the seafloor. Most have at least a master's degree since the methods are highly technical and expensive. I have colleagues at the USGS who map the ocean and they have master's degrees, generally oceanography with a concentration in geology or geophysics. They use side scan sonar, multibeam, swath bathymetry, and chirp subbottom profilers.


What do you expect to discover? What do you hope to discover? And what would be a dream discovery (that's realistic) for you?

ILikeThatJawn

Ben here - Dream discovery front - One of the reasons I bought Marty Becker out there is because he's found a number of mammal bones and teeth at underwater sites off New Jersey. I'd love to come up with the tooth of an extinct mammal, or the tusk of a mammoth.


What do you expect to discover? What do you hope to discover? And what would be a dream discovery (that's realistic) for you?

ILikeThatJawn

Kristine here - I would love to find a really old tree, like +2000 years. It would also be cool to find some human artifacts, it would be evidence of humans in N. America during the ice age but our chances are small of finding this even if humans were present.


This is a fantastic documentary.

This forest is the only one of its kind found.

Do you think more exist in the Gulf of Mexico or elsewhere?

NightTrainDan

Ben here- Glad you liked the film. Yes, I think we are about to discover many similar sites. For one, LSU has learned to recognize the signature of the trees, even when buried under several feet of sediment. Two, I think divers who come across such sites will understand it is something unique and important and spread the word about them.


Thank you so much for doing this ama!! The documentary was very cool btw.

What are the biggest questions in your heads about the forest? What would you just KILL to know more about? Thanks again for doing this!

Alxndr_Hamilton

Ben here - I'd love to know who and what lived in it. Were there people here? If there were, this would have been a wonderful place to be at the time. Imagine this forest in a colder world, with snow in the winter and summer temperatures 15 degrees cooler. No palmettos, but lots of alder and other plants we don't find on the Gulf coast. This area has always been a refugia for both plants and animals during the ice ages. How neat it would be to see what creatures might have lived here. Unknown to most, Alabama actually ranks number one in the nation for aquatic diversity. Number one in fish species, mussels, crayfish, snails, salamanders. The contest is even close. There's a small river near my house. We sampled it via electroshock and came up with 26 species of fish in a mile of river. That's more species than live in the entire Colorado River basin, which drains 11 states. We have 84 crayfish species. California has 9. Louisiana just 32. Naturally, I wonder what might have inhabited these forests, which were situated in the drainage of the most diverse river system in the nation, the Mobile Basin. Have we lost species that lived only here?


Since this forest is ~60,000 years old, isn't it possible multiple hurricanes have uncovered this forest before? Is there a way to scientifically test for previous exposures and silt/sand re-coverings?

Doris_Tasker

Ben here - Given the incredible condition of the wood, we do not believe it has been covered and uncovered successive times. We think it has been preserved intact until today.


Will you or the world be exposed to long preserved pathogens that could potentially kill or harm us?

brittanyFNdale

Ben here - Hmm. I'm hoping for some sort of genetic enhancement mutation that does great things for humanity. Like being able to live and breathe underwater (to paraphrase Jimi Hendrix).


Will you or the world be exposed to long preserved pathogens that could potentially kill or harm us?

brittanyFNdale

Kristine here - I do not think so. The sediments have no oxygen so there is little living in the sediments with the wood, that is why the wood has not decomposed. I have not gotten sick and I have handled the wood.


I understand that the wood is decaying now that it has been uncovered, so you have to act fast. If that's the case, is the site large enough to make commercial exploitation possible? Now, before anyone comes after me with pitchforks, I'm thinking I'd rather have those trees recovered than lost forever when they decay. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Underwater_logging

photolouis

Ben here - This depends on your perspective. I'd prefer to keep one of the largest reef-habitats you'll find in the northern Gulf intact. I'd also vote to keep the wood on the seafloor where people can appreciate it as a natural wonder. Yes, this is an ephemeral thing. It won't last forever. But once you dive on it, you'll never forget it.


What type of climatological data can you gather from the forrest?
How will you do so?

RoachKabob

Kristine here- YES! we are definitely doing this. I study past climate so this is my interest in the forest. We have a floating chronology that is 489 years long from 10 long lived trees. What is interesting is they show the same stress in the last 50 years of their life and they all appear to die at the same time. I am diving the site this summer and we are using my new underwater drill to core the large stumps. I also have a colleague measuring the carbon and oxygen isotopes in the wood we collected to look at how carbon and hydrological cycles were different during the ice age. Another colleague is looking at the pollen assemblages to see the forest composition changed with time.


What plant or animal specimens besides the cypress have been found?

TheKeenMind

Kristine here- We found lots of pollen, seeds, a palm tree, and an Atlantic White cedar tree, as well as microfossils of plankton, shells in the marine section of the cores above the trees. We found some small fish bones in the tree sediments as well.


What's the weirdest, most unexpected conclusion that the data from the forest supports?

TheKeenMind

Kristine here - The radiocarbon dates we got were a surprise, I expected the forest to be between 10,000 and 12,000 years old based on sea level rise since the last glacial maximum. These trees survived exposure on land during the height of the glacial interval, about 30,000 years, they would have normally been eroded away.


What's the weirdest, most unexpected conclusion that the data from the forest supports?

TheKeenMind

Ben here - for me, the strangest discovery has come from the pollen record. It shows that this forest was dominated by cypress, alder and oaks. This is different from modern cypress forests on the Gulf coast, which are dominated by cypress and tupelo. The data show that the forest is more like a coastal forest in North Carolina or Virginia. I think that's fascinating. A colder forest for a colder world.


This may seem like a stupid question, but what do you mean by preserved? Are the trees still there/alive? Or is it some sort of fossilized (petrified?) forest?

startrekloverr

Ben here - The trees were protected from decay by being buried in mud, which essentially hermetically sealed them in. While they are not alive, and were dead when they were buried, they are completely intact. When you cut one with a saw, it is as difficult as cutting a modern tree down in your yard. Then, you smell the distinct odor of fresh cut cypress, just like cutting into a pine tree. If you cut a piece and set it on a table, you can watch the sap ooze out. That's what I mean by preserved. They are perfectly preserved as if they died yesterday. They still have bark on them even.


This may seem like a stupid question, but what do you mean by preserved? Are the trees still there/alive? Or is it some sort of fossilized (petrified?) forest?

startrekloverr

Kristine here - I will add on to Ben's response. The trees are not petrified, which is the replacement of the wood with other minerals. Given more time, like a half million years, the wood would probably be petrified. There is a nice petrified forest in North Mississippi that has extinct Sequoia trees (https://www.mspetrifiedforest.com/index.php)


Any signs of extinct fungi?

Cupaq2000

Kristine here- We have not looked for fungi yet, are you an expert and know your fungi? If so email me!


Prof. Kristine: Hi, I'm a high school student who's very interested in your discovery and this sort of geological work. You said that you did mechanical engineering in college, so how did you progress to paleontology and ultimately this work? I'm planning to do mech eng as well so I'll be able to do an engineering/technical job in the field of environment/physical geography. Do you have any advice for me to reach this dream? Thank you, your work really excites and inspires me!

ulvo

Kristine here- Thanks for asking! I studied mechanical engineering because I was good at math and that was where the jobs were at the time. My true love is the oceans and that is why I went back and got my degrees in geological oceanography. Most universities do not have a bachelors program in oceanography but there are a few with marine biology programs. I think engineering is a good preparation for oceanography, especially if you what to do the more technical subjects like geophysics and chemical oceanography. If you want to do physical oceanography (ocean currents, climate, tides, sea level rise) then atmospheric science or physics is a good degree at the bachelor level. For biological oceanography, environmental science is a good bachelor's program to take. Additionally, I suggest you learn computer programming, which is becoming very important in science and research, and GIS is another important skill. If you want to do field work, learn to scuba dive! The Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have good programs to teach high schoolers scuba diving. Keep up your grades and do research while you at university working on your bachelor's degree. Talk to your professors, we love to talk with students and we can help you find internships, research projects, and give advice for graduate school.


This is incredible. Has there been much indication yet of Native American settlements in the area? This would have been decent territory for hunting/fishing after the glacial push right? I can only imagine that someone may have settled there semi permanently

neildegrasstokem

Ben here - To your point, this area was well populated with native tribes by the time DeSoto arrived here. In fact, the Mobile-Tensaw Delta is today home to hundreds of shell middens where Mississippian tribes lived. The middle of the Delta is home to Mound Island, which was the center of the culture on the Gulf Coast, and was home to the sacred fire for all the tribes. It stands to reason this area would have been just as welcoming to the earliest peoples on the continent. Perhaps evidence of earlier settlements than we know of lies in the forest.


I'm curious why, when you retrieved the large trunk from the site, rather than cutting it up, you didn't tow it behind the boat to shore or find some other way to maintain the integrity of the piece.

KaHOnas

Ben here - Good question. We were facing a deteriorating situation in terms of weather. Storms were moving in on us from the Southwest and we wanted to run from them, not have to slowly tow a heavy and unwieldy object.


Did you find any human ruins at that depth since they would have lived close to the (back then) shoreline?

Zarkonirk

Kristine here- No evidence of humans has been found.


How do you respond to the idea that a global flood may have rapidly settled and burried these trees? Similar to the petrified redwoods of Specimen Ridge are these Cyprus trees native to a distant location, or do they belong in the area? P.S. Thanks for your research and commitment to scientific discovery!

TangoWhiteTrash

Kristine here - These trees are located in the position they were in when they were alive, the roots are still in the sediments, and they look like a forest that had been clear cut, only the stumps remain. The flood that buried them could have been local or global, we do not know yet. A local flood could be from a hurricane or tsunami. Or it could have been a global flood from the ice sheets melting quickly.


Do you plan on somehow keeping people away from it to protect it? If so, how? With the fishing Rodeo coming up this weekend, I'm curious if it might get fished more, and how it may negatively effect the forest.

Floatie_

Ben here - Fishing over the site won't hurt a thing. It's a thriving reef community full of both predators and prey. Our best hope for protecting it is as a national marine sanctuary. Even then, we are not looking to ban fishing or diving. We just want to outlaw removing the stumps from the water.


I understand that the forest was unburied by Ivan in 2004, but is there any explanation as to how the forest was first buried?

Henry_Darcy

Ben here - That's a two dollar question there. How indeed. Speculation is all we are left with. But, studying the world around us, a couple of possibilities spring to mind. First, perhaps a natural event like a hurricane. Hurricanes routinely bury things along the coast in five or ten feet of sand. But given the mud at the site, my best guess suggests deposition by rivers during a prolonged flood. This area, surrounding Mobile Bay, is the rainiest spot in our nation. We get about 72 inches of rain a year, which is about two feet more than Seattle. Perhaps it was a rainy spot then, draining the same river system it drains today, which drains parts of Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi and most of Alabama. Our modern swamps change shape continually due to the annual flooding. I can easily imagine the forest being buried in mud in just a few years.


How harvestable is this forest, and how concerned are you that some knucklehead will find it and harvest it? I know that cypress is expensive lumber, and there are major efforts underway to harvest waterlogged lumber in the Atchafalaya Basin. 60 feet doesn't seem undoable to a committed Cajun...

DragonflyRider

Ben Here- Precisely. I'm extremely concerned about a committed Cajun, or an Alabama lumberjack with a boat. This place is easily harvestable for someone with a boat equipped with a winch. And imagine the price a 60,000 year old coffee table would command.


How can an entire forest be preserved underwater without the humidity damaging it? Any explanation or theory about how is it possible? Also, what's the most interesting insect species you've found there?

ChampagneThrills

Ben here - your first couple of questions have been answered in the thread. Your last one about insects is more fun. We haven't found any bugs yet, but we have found signs of them. In fact, in the documentary, you see a dendrochronologist pointing out a beetle gallery in a cypress log. We have found many similar carvings made by bugs in the trees. We also found a trunk with a lightning scar, and a number showing burnt bark from ancient forest fires.


How can an entire forest be preserved underwater without the humidity damaging it? Any explanation or theory about how is it possible? Also, what's the most interesting insect species you've found there?

ChampagneThrills

Kristine here - Normally wood decomposes in the marine environment quickly, baldcypress is more resistant but it will eventually decompose. This site was a backwater swamp where the water and sediments have little to no oxygen in them. Generally, No oxygen, no decomposition. This wood was encased in the no oxygen sediments thus preserved.


As an owner of PSVR headset I am wondering do you have any plans of releasing a sightseeing movie that would make use of VR technology? Such a swim would be great a great experience for people that can't access the area personally.

Also what is the "biggest" thing you hope to uncover from the forest?

Larkas

I'll look into that. It sounds like it might be fun.


Additional Assets

License

This article and its reviews are distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and redistribution in any medium, provided that the original author and source are credited.